This year, Artscape earns rave reviews

Visitors find much to their liking - the food, music draw crowds, too

July 19, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Nicole Carman peered closely at a fabric-and-paint artwork on display at Artscape, the city's three-day celebration of the arts that wrapped up yesterday. "Awesome," she said.

She'd heard about the exhibit curated by nationally acclaimed artist Kerry James Marshall and had been looking forward to seeing it.

"I've spent more time looking in the galleries than in past years, and I'm really impressed," said Carman, a behavioral therapist at the Kennedy-Krieger Institute. "The Baltimore/Chicago Show is my favorite. I went to see Marshall's exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, so this show, which he curated, was really the one I anticipated seeing most."

Carmen's reaction is precisely what Artscape organizers were hoping for with this year's event. Last year's festival, which cost $800,000, attracted about 1.5 million visitors, mostly from the Baltimore-Washington region.

This year, festival organizers spent the same amount and aimed to attract at least as many visitors - but from a wider geographical area - while increasing the quality of the festival's visual and performing arts programming. A visitor survey taken this weekend is expected to confirm organizers' hopes when the results become available in about two weeks.

"From comments I've received from both festival-goers and participants, we feel the programming this year is the best ever," said Bill Gilmore, director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which organized the event.

Light rain contributed to a slow start yesterday morning, but by early afternoon the crowds had returned under overcast skies and most of the vendors had reopened. "We're not at capacity like we were Saturday but more and more people are starting to come," spokesperson Tracy Baskerville said yesterday afternoon. Moreover, "Saturday evening's concert by Wyclef Jean was packed," she said.

Music has always been one of Artscape's biggest draws - this year, top acts included Jean, the Commodores and R&B legend Isaac Hayes, as well as nationally recognized disc jockeys DJ Feelgood and Ultra Nate. But over the weekend, the art exhibitions also seemed to generate a buzz.

In particular, The Baltimore/Chicago Show, curated by MacArthur "genius" award recipient Marshall and installed in the Station Building of Maryland Institute College of Art, drew praise. (The show will be on view through July 31, and Marshall's own works are currently on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art through Sept. 5.)

Other notable exhibitions included works by local artists displayed in the Independent Gallery Pavilion on the Mount Royal Avenue median strip, which was organized by Jason Hughes and Dustin Carlson, owners of Baltimore's Gallery Four; and Phenomenology, a group of cutting-edge sculpture and installation works curated by Chezia Thompson Cager and Maren Hassinger on display in the Meyerhoff Gallery of MICA's Fox Building.

"I'm loving it," said Marc Yount, who drove in from Westminster with his family on Saturday to attend Artscape for the first time. "The art is pretty interesting, very intriguing - though some of it makes you go `Huh?'"

Alice Jones, a MICA graduate who now works as a day-care teacher, said the shows featuring local artists were outstanding. "I really love Grant Anderson's work," she said. "I also liked the guy with the strange naked men," she added, referring to paintings by Matthew McConville, which also were in The Baltimore/Chicago Show. "They're beautiful."

The festival has become more inclusive and sophisticated, said Heidi Minken, who has participated in Foodscape, an annual exhibit organized by local artists to spoof Artscape at the nearby Mount Royal Tavern in Bolton Hill. Critics for years have complained that food was the real focus of the arts festival.

"For example, the artists who were in Independent Pavilion Gallery - that was wonderful," Minken said. "That's something you would never have seen in the past."

Nonetheless, there were plenty of Artscape participants who simply wanted to enjoy the atmosphere - and sample the food. Said Baltimorean Robert Smith, who was standing with his wife, Ada, in a long line at the food court Saturday: "I'm here because I love Jamaican chicken!"

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